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How To Deal With Clients Who Delay Payment of Attorney Fees

A rookie lawyer asked me a question as below:

How do you deal with potential clients who procrastinate? I've run in to three in a row now with good cases (e.g. wage and labor, immigration, collections, etc) and who I impress with my skill set, reasonable rates, and knowledge base, but then they drag their feet in actually getting their case going.

In the past, I've assumed that these PCs hire another lawyer, settle their dispute, etc, but I run in to these last three PCs all the time and I know they just haven't done anything with their case.

I suppose part of this is human nature -- I see procrastinating clients in estate planning a lot since no one wants to think about death. Part of this is also fear since anything involving lawyers (even if not adversarial) scares some people. As usual, though, I'm wondering if I'm missing something obvious.

As an experienced China lawyer, I of course have encountered similar scenario.

First time someone no-shows or doesn't provide something, I send the "Perhaps you overlooked?" letter.  I give a deadline to respond.  For early stuff, like missed consults, it's relatively short, like 10 days, after which I close the file.

If I've tendered a fee agreement on litigation and it's not signed, or the retainer is not tendered timely, I follow with a letter stating that I must received the retainer and X (evidence, docs, etc.) by a deadline date, or the offer of representation is withdrawn.  Cite the statute of limitations (qualified, if necessary, by the uncertainty in the facts you have available, erring on the side of caution), and the time and effort that needs to be expended in advance of filing.

Also cite, as noted, the increased value of fresh evidence, witnesses, etc.

If you're unwilling to take on a case less than, say, 3 months before the SOL, use that as your cut-off.  Remind them that any assurances of strength in the case diminish with time; the longer you wait, the less you're waiting for.

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I am a licensed China lawyer. Most clients are foreign nationals and companies. China Lawyer Blog have associates in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, Qingdao, Fuzhou, Hainan, Hefei, Wuhan, Xian, Changsha, Xiamen and Hangzhou. Learn More

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China Lawyer BLog AuthorPeter Zhu, an experienced China attorney licensed to practice law for more than ten years, the author of this China Lawyer blog, welcomes any enquiry or consultation related to Chinese law.